Big Five Personality Factors: Are They Effective for Selection?

Topic(s): assessment, personality, selection
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2013)
Article: Assessing the validity of sales self-efficacy: A cautionary tale
Authors: N. Gupta, D.C. Ganster, S. Kepes
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

When companies decide whom to hire, a process known as selection, they typically look at the personality of the applicant, among other factors. When evaluating the personality of an applicant, companies frequently look at the Big Five personality factors. These dimensions are (1) extraversion, which relates to how outgoing someone is; (2) openness, which relates to a person’s level of curiosity; (3) agreeableness, which relates to someone’s levels of compassion and warmth; (4) conscientiousness, which refers to a person’s drive to succeed; and (5) neuroticism, which relates to how secure someone feels.


In their article, the authors (Gupta, Ganster, & Kepes, 2013) question how effective these personality assessments really are. They argue that though it is important to examine the personality of job applicants, measures based on the Big Five personality factors are too broad. Instead, they suggest that more specific personality measures, based on the requirements of the job, are better to use when selecting new employees.

For their study, the authors gave personality tests to over 2,000 sales employees of a major department store and then compared the results of the personality tests to job performance. One of the personality tests looked at the Big Five personality factors. The other personality test asked whether or not the job applicants thought that they were good at selling and whether or not the job applicants enjoyed the process of selling. The results of these personality tests were then compared to how many items each employee ended up selling and to the ratings each employee was given by his or her supervisor. 

The personality test that assessed the job applicants’ confidence in their ability to sell was more related to job performance than the personality test that assessed the Big Five personality factors. 


This study demonstrates that, to hire an employee with a specific set of skills, it may be better to ask about those specific skills and inclinations more directly. Organizations that want to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of a hiring process may not achieve their goals if they only rely on broader, more well-known personality tests.


Gupta, N., Ganster, D. C., & Kepes, S. (2013). Assessing the validity of sales self-efficacy: A cautionary tale. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(4), 690-700.

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